VANCOUVER — Elizabeth May arguably is B.C.’s most prominent federal back-bencher, demonstrating a unique and endearing political style.
In the past year she has done much to raise the Green party’s profile as well as her own, as she struggled to make her voice heard from a distant back row in the Commons.
The MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, as her party’s sole caucus member, had to be tireless and cunning in pushing her political agenda since winning the seat in the May 2011 vote. Otherwise, she’d quickly have become an afterthought.
As it turns out, May has received more than her share of media attention, especially during debate of the government’s omnibus budget bill.
She takes credit for mobilizing opposition protest to the bill, personally introducing no fewer than 320 amendments to stall its passage.
Part of her secret is an unusual political style.
What other MP would report to constituents, as she did in her blog, she was “near tears” at reading the Harper budget bill?
Who else would challenge Conservative MPs — “as a last attempt to shake them into integrity” — to take a 15-minute open-book, multiple-choice quiz to test their knowledge of their government budget bill, a document she dubbed a “juggernaut of abuse.”
May offered a tree-planting ceremony in the riding of any taker but lamented, “none of them showed up.”
The 58-year-old mother of an adult daughter, lawyer and longtime environmentalist who formerly resided in Cape Breton, N.S., has settled comfortably into her rented cottage in Sidney — “I can’t afford to buy” — and now considers herself a British Columbian. May moved to Vancouver Island three years ago, to get herself elected. She then went on to beat Conservative cabinet minister Gary Lunn.
In an interview in Vancouver Friday, the Green leader, dressed in blue jeans, reported that she loves “being a member of Parliament, the tradition, the democracy, having my speeches noticed,” and does not consider her tiny caucus of one to be powerless.
She points to her freedom; unlike other MPs, she’s unconstrained either by partisan concerns or a domineering leader.
Rather optimistically, May predicted the next Green MP will come soon in a byelection replacing Conservative Lee Richardson, who recently retired in Calgary Centre.
And by the time of the next election, she anticipates having a clutch of caucus mates, either through byelections or floor crossings.
Her biggest success has been in attracting public attention, and she’s done this by being disarmingly motherly, vulnerable and emotionally accessible. In other words, she’s unlike other politicians.
She has tried using her charm, without much success, to get to know Stephen Harper — a man she calls “the most anti-nature prime minister in our history.
“I’ve been working on it for years,” she said. “He’s not like other prime ministers in terms of being approachable.”
May reports she once was instructed by a Commons security guard that a certain elevator was off limits to MPs because it was in use by Harper.
While May is widely appreciated by Greens for her electoral breakthrough, some believe May holds too tight a rein on the Green party, that it has become the Elizabeth May Party. May disputes the claim, noting she’s one voice on the Greens’ federal council and often is outvoted.
The Green leader doubtless will be front and centre at her party’s political convention Aug. 17-19 in Sidney, B.C. Interestingly, the gathering won’t feature a vote on her leadership; that’s not due until after the next election, expected in 2015.
» Barbara Yaffe is a national affairs columnist for the Vancouver Sun. She can be reached at email@example.com
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 25, 2012